NJ polling places plagued by internet problems, long lines on Election Day
A new system being used at polling places around the state that cost $68 million is to blame for voting problems in the first hours of Election Day, according to one county election commissioner.
Voters were reporting long lines and saying that they left before being able to vote, although paper provisional ballots are always an option.
Voters this year for the first time are signing an electronic tablet device instead of a paper book. The device relies on an internet connection using a network program called Nighthawk.
The state Division of Elections said late Tuesday morning that it was aware of problems the electronic pollbooks "at a small number of polling locations."
"Most of the state’s approximately 3400 polling locations have been operating since 6 a.m. without reported incident," a spokeswoman for the division said in response to questions from New Jersey 101.5 "The affected sites have been or are being addressed. If any voters were unable to vote due to these issues, we encourage them to return to their polling location and cast a ballot."
In Monmouth County, Board of Elections Commissioner Eileen Kean said there were "definitely hiccups taking place today."
"Yes we are having internet slowdowns and problems and we are working our way through it," Kean said. "The problem is around the state. It's not just a Monmouth County problem. It's tied to the electronic poll books
Kean said that the early voting went smoothly because there were fewer locations than on Election Day.
"We have hundreds of polling districts. Sure there's going to be more problems today than there were when we had ten polling centers for early voting," Kean said.
Kean said the system was tested "ad naseum" before voting began with many training sessions.
Meanwhile, a power outage caused a halt to voting at the two fire stations used as polling locations in Keansburg, according to JCP&L spokesman Christopher Hoenig. He said animals damaged a breaker inside a substation that crews are trying to bypass in order to restore power.
"This is a priority for us," Hoenig said.
Power was restored by 11 a.m.
A Middlesex County election official encouraged voters who had problems early to return to their poll location.
"Upon the opening of polls at 6 am, operational issues were reported to the Board of Elections. It became apparent that the issues were mainly due to connectivity challenges with the routers which were provided to the county by the State of New Jersey. These state-issued devices are intended to connect the electronic poll books to the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS). It appears that these issues were not isolated to Middlesex County but were happening across the state," the official said.
What can voters do?
Kean said to report any problems to the board of elections in the county where one is voting so IT techs can quickly handle any problems. She said Monmouth County is successfully dealing with its problems.
"We have a hotline, we have folks out at polling locations, we've got techies out and about. We're solving our problems," Kean said.
The state Democratic and Republican committees did not immediately respond to New Jersey 101.5's request for reaction.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said that he was aware of problems with voting in his district but said they've been resolved. His bigger problem is with people refusing to take provisional ballots and he dismissed unfounded beliefs that provisional ballots are discarded.
"Vote provisionally," Bramnick said. "I tell people to go back and vote. I don't think anyone is throwing them away. Nobody wants to go to jail over throwing away a ballot. All that is utter nonsense."
Provisional ballots are eventually counted after county officials confirm that the voter who signed the ballot envelope is qualified.
"From the beginning, the NJGOP has been aware of the problems that had been reported in a few dozen voting locations early this morning and our election integrity team was able to respond in real time and help fix the problems thanks to voters utilizing our hotline to report the information," GOP NJ Executive Director Tom Szymanski told NJ 101.5 in a statement." If voters were unable to vote earlier or were on line and left, our message is clear: return to your voting location and cast your vote by 8PM. If machines or technology are malfunctioning, voters should be offered a provisional paper ballot and should demand one if they are not. If voters encounter difficulties they should call our hotline at 609-288-2925."
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ